Posted by: Brian LaFratta

On July 19, 2014, Illinois enacted a new law limiting an employer’s use of criminal background checks. The new law, called the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, prohibits private employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal background until after the employer has determined the applicant is qualified for the job and notified the applicant that he or she was selected for an interview. If the employer does not conduct interviews for the position, then the employer cannot ask about criminal background until after making a conditional offer of employment.

These requirements do not apply to positions where (1) employers are required to exclude applicants with certain criminal convictions from employment due to federal or State law; (2) a standard fidelity bond or an equivalent bond is required and an applicant’s conviction of one or more specified criminal offenses would disqualify the applicant from obtaining such a bond, in which case an employer may include a question or otherwise inquire whether the applicant has ever been convicted of any of those offenses; or (3) employers employ individuals licensed under the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems Act. Further, the law “does not prohibit an employer from notifying applicants in writing of the specific offenses that will disqualify an applicant from employment in a particular position due to federal or State law or the employer’s policy.” However, employers need to be careful about such notices, as the federal EEOC prohibits blanket criminal background disqualification policies.

The law takes effect on January 1, 2015. Many employers’ current job applications specifically ask the applicant to disclose information regarding convictions. Under the new law, this will no longer be permissible. Additionally, employers will need to consider modifying their hiring practices to account for the new law’s restrictions while still hiring the right workers for the job.